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Disassembled Ensemble Reassemble

I wonder if Microsoft would still have closed down Ensemble if they’d have known Halo Wars would go on to shift an easy 1m units. Sounds as though the veteran RTS developers who comprised this former goliath of PC gaming aren’t wasting any time getting back on their feet, at least.

So far, there are three splinter companies, each promising happy days ahead.

Ensemble co-founder Tony Goodman set up Robot Entertainment last month, working out of Texas. There are no details on their projects, but from the sole press release it sounds as though they’re retaining some ties with their former Microsoft slavemasters:

Robot Entertainment announced today the formation of its new game development studio in Plano, Texas. Founded by many of the original founders of Ensemble Studios, Robot has a staff of 45 comprised entirely of former Ensemble employees. Robot’s team developed the hit franchise Age of Empires™, selling over 20 million units worldwide, and the soon-to-be released Halo Wars for Xbox 360™. Tony Goodman, the founder of Ensemble, is the CEO of Robot.

“The video game industry is in a state of upheaval,” said Mr. Goodman, “not just games, but the entire landscape. Everything is changing: where we buy games, how we buy games, how much we pay, how long we play, who we play them with. As a fast-moving independent team of game developers, industry leaders and market experts, Robot Entertainment is ideally positioned to play a transformative role in the industry’s future.”

Robot Entertainment is working with Microsoft Game Studios to develop additional content for Halo Wars and support online gaming and community for both Age of Empires and Halo Wars. Additionally, Robot is developing its own original IP.

Next up is the 35-man Bonfire Studios, headed by one David Rippy (I wish he was called Dave Ripply). They’re working on a new IP, but it’s under-wraps for now. And their website has about a dozen too many fire-based gags: “THIS INFORMATION IS HOT. If you can handle the ‘Heat’ contact us and we’ll introduce ourselves BONFIRE style… ignite@bonfire-studios.com.” Oof.

Rippy was one of the first ex-Ensemblers to proffer his thoughts as to why they were shut down: “Ensemble was kind of a victim of its own success as an RTS shop. As hard as we tried, we were never able to have one of our non-RTS prototypes greenlit, largely because we were ‘the RTS guys’.”

With that in mind, their first game will be a break from form: “Our first game is something completely different than what we’ve done in the past. I think our games will always have a strong strategy element to them, though, since that is one of the core strengths of the team.”

Finally, this week, the incredibly-named Dusty Monk (who sounds like a bad Batman villain. “Run for your lives! Cover your eyes! It’s The Dusty Monk!”) revealed Windstorm Studios. Their Jetsons-esque website reveals they have colourful, optimistic plans:

Windstorm Studios is an independent game studio whose mission is to bring a new era to online gaming! Are you tired of online games filled with depressing predictions of post apocalyptic destruction? Are you weary of walking through grey streets beneath grey skies and killing grey zombies? Have you had your fill of dank cellars and dark caves? Well so have we! And we’re ready to build a brighter world! A better online game – a game with the promise of of a hopeful future — cities of glass and steel, and most importantly, flying cars!

An MMO based around a 1950s vision of the future? Sounds fun to me.

Ensemble’s death is sad and absurd, but if it means its fine men and woman are now free to go and create amazing, inventive new projects, rather than simply endless historical strategy games, we all win. Good luck to the lot of ’em, and let’s pray it doesn’t end up being the quickfire studio apocalypse it was so for so many of the former Bullfrog splinters.

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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